Book Reviews

The Leprechauns of Software Engineering by Laurent Bossavit

Publisher: Leanpub
Pages: 183

I set a number of goals when I started to write on what eventually became Your Code as a Crime Scene. One of those goals was to take some fascinating research on software and make that academic research accessible to the practicing programmer. At that time I was fresh of a research project I'd conducted for my Master degree in psychology. As such, I paid extra attention to the sources I used. I read the papers carefully, often 3-4 times to make sure I understood what was studied and what wasn't. However, I never took it to the level of scrutiny that Laurent Bossavit does. In his book The Leprechauns of Software Engineering, Laurent investigates a number of well-known claims in the software industry to uncover the true source of the supposed fact. As it turns out, that data is 1) often not there, 2) measures something else, or 3) suffers serious methodical problems.

I have this odd crash on reading books about software development. I've found that books fit my learning style better than, for example, videos or courses. That also means I've come across the claims Laurent dissects in his book: the cone of uncertainty, the 10x productivity difference between programmers, the origins of the Waterfall model, and a few more. Laurent walks us through each one of them, follows the referenced papers and books, traces their origins back in time, and often finds nothing at all to support the claim. This should be a serious wake up call for the software industry. The problem is that over the years, though repeated transformations and repetitions, these unfounded claims have turned into universal truths about our discipline. And yes, I'm probably as guilty as anyone because I've repeated at least two of those claims in some of my earlier presentations (thankfully, those early sessions were never recorded so nobody will ever know).

The Leprechauns of Software Engineering is a great read that deserves a large audience. Laurent is out on an important and impressive quest. I hope he continues his writing, because we as an industry need this perspective. Now, run over to Leanpub and grab your copy of the book - it's brilliant.

Reviewed May 2016